Tom Lee Park Opens in Memphis!

Tom Lee Park, the newly transformed, 31-acre riverfront park in downtown Memphis, opened on September 2, 2023. Designed in collaboration with SCAPE, the new urban park is one of the Studio’s most significant civic projects to date. Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, Tom Lee Park strengthens the connection between downtown Memphis and the river as well as restores the area’s ecology by responding to the river’s dynamic ecosystems.

Named for Tom Lee, a local Memphis hero and Black river worker who single-handedly saved 32 people from drowning after a steamship capsized in 1925, the park takes its place as the centerpiece of the city’s riverfront. The design reflects substantive input from thousands of Memphians, including a Youth Design Leadership program that invited local teens into the planning and design process. It also fosters greater equity across Memphis by providing improved access to quality public space for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Transforming a once flat expanse of lawn, undulating hills of native plants and trees sculpt spaces inspired by the dynamism of the Mississippi River. These, along with a restored soil system, will provide habitat for birds and pollinators that migrate along the Mississippi Flyway Corridor and will help the river’s existing ecosystem to thrive.

“From the outset of this project, the design team included the community in meaningful ways so that the park’s programming would reflect the ideas and the desires of Memphians themselves,” said Jeanne. “The result is a place where everyone feels welcome to gather, exercise, play, relax, and attend events along an ecologically revitalized river corridor.”

Anchored by the Sunset Canopy, a 16,000-square-foot timber pavilion designed to host year-round community activities and events, the park is defined across four zones: the Civic Gateway, Active Core, Community Batture, and Habitat Terraces. While each has its own distinct character, they are unified by an overarching plan inspired by the hydrological forms of the river. Sheltering structures that provide shade and space for respite are crafted from timber, recalling the site’s industrial past. The park also integrates two newly commissioned public art installations: A Monument to Listening, by Theaster Gates, and a multi-colored, geometrically patterned basketball court installation created by New York City-based artist James Little, who was born and raised in Memphis

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